"Hard" science movies

The return of this thread about Sunshine made me wonder about other “hard science” movies. Give me examples of other movies or TV shows where the science is accurate and plausible (or at least the blatant mistakes are kept to a minimum). The kinds of movies that don’t make the author of the Bad Astronomy site throw up. Some I can think of:
2001 – no zooming spaceships, docking shuttle matching the rotation of the space station. Well done.

Primerwhile the time travel mechanism was never explained the overlapping of timelines the limitations of travel and the idea of a time machine within a time machine were brilliantly handled.

Apollo 13 – Duh. They had to be accurate about the events. (I can’t remember if they had any sound effects when the tank blew, though)

Any other examples?

Star Cops, a British science fiction show where there was no artificial gravity, no FTL travel, no aliens, and when the spoke to the dead, it was because the people they were speaking to had their rockets go off accidentally so they were headed out toward space and couldn’t be rescued due to their trajectory (thus, it was only a matter of time).

IIRC, the astronauts aboard Apollo 13 reported a “loud bang” when the explosion occurred.

I’m not sure your average time travel film can be categorized as “hard science”. Outside of some very specialized General Relativity stuff (which has pretty limited dramatic possibilities), you’re not going to bring good “hard science” to a time travel story. Primer may be good SF, but I don’t thibnk it’s “hard” sf.
Lots of movies are arguably hard SF (or hard science) in that they don’t explicitly address the ways it might be violated. (Even 2001, with its “Trip” section, isn’t strictly Hard Science – but we assume the aliens are obeying Clarke’s Third Law – Any Sufficiently Advanced Science is Indistinguishable from Magic). So i can include:

Forbidden Planet** (If you’ll allow faster-than-light travel as an unexplained future science. Heck, the point of the film is the way you can reason scientifically in the presence of limited data – look at Doc Ostrow’s speech after the attack on the saucer)

**Panic in Year Zero


Andromeda Strain

It! The Terror from Beyond Space



Bladerunner** Although in the last few, you have to assume antigravity or/or new propulsion systems
A lot of others depend on how tolerant you are of Alien doings. The humans don’t violate physical laws in

The Thing (both versions)

**The Day the Earth Stood Still

Quatermass Xperiment

Quatermass II

Quatermass and the Pit

That’s because the explosion happened on their ship. Sound can’t transmit through a vacuum, but it can transmit through an object: specifically, the hull of the ship in which they were travelling.

The Dish is based on real events, so it’s scientifically pretty good, even when the scientists miss the obvious – for example, they lose the calculated bearings of the Apollo space craft, and try to recalculate them, until one has a “doh!” moment, and just looks in the sky to see where the Moon is.

I’ll throw a curveball: “Awakenings”. This is a movie about science. A doctor is confonted with patients afflicted with a particular problem. He constructs hypotheses about what the problem could be, and tries several eperiments to allieviate the problem, and eventually figures out the answer, and partially/temporarily cures the patients.

Life Story was a TV movie based Watson and Crick’s DNA research. One of the IMDB reviews says that Crick himself approved of the movie’s scientific content.

I, Robot departed quite a bit from the Asimovian source material, but seemed scientifically plausible.

Serenity didn’t violate any of the laws of physics that I recall.

The Abyss likewise, if you permit the superadvanced underwater aliens to do their thang.

The final scene of Contact depends on the possibility of what amounts to instantaneous two-way telepathic communication across interstellar distances (or else a plain ol’ hallucination), but up to that point the science is pretty solid.

Another obscure one: the movie Deathwatch (Le Mort en Direct). The only thing that’s even borderline is a tiny video camera that fits in place of an eye.

Much of Demon Seed is scientifically plausible, and, if you accept DNA modification of germ tissue, even what was considered the silliest conceit of the film is well within scientific possibility.

If aliens are allowed, It Came from Outer Space is pretty good.

Don’t you think a lot of the stuff about androids in that movie stretches the plausibility constraint? I think it’s possibe we’ll have such androids at some point, but speculation about them and what they would be like “as people” and so on seems very premature.


Dam Busters?

“The Chairman” with Gregory Peck, c. 1969.

Perhaps not the hardest of science, but unarmed biochemist Peck is sent into Communist China to obtain the amino acid sequence and structure of a plant enzyme that the Chinese are using to make food crops into extremophiles; ie growing pineapples in the snow and rice in the desert.

They gloss over the biochemistry some; but imagine the movie being made today - I’m sure they’d dumb it down quite a bit. George Clooney would be the secret agent sent to recover the antigen that is the antidote to the flesh-eating virus weapon developed by Osama bin Laden - the kind of virus that is resistant! to! all! our! most! powerful! antibiotics! In the climatic scene, George injects Osama with a massive dose of the virus and stands back while Osama deliquesces into a quivering puddle of CGI gore.

I’m smelling summer blockbuster!

The OP didn’t ask if it was imminent.

Real Genius. No, seriously. While the concept of a portable megawatt-class laser still has yet to come to operational fruition, most of the technical jargon used in the film was current and reasonably accurate, if you’re willing to make allowances for it being a teen comedy (specifically the ending). It wasn’t just some bunch of technobabble that a scientifically unversed Hollywood screenwriter pulled out of his arse. “But then, in the midst of my preparation for hara-kiri, it came to me: it is possible to synthesize excited bromide in an argon matrix. Yes, its an excimer, frozen in its excited state.”


I wasn’t assuming he was. I’m not sure why you thought I was.


That was the one I was going to mention. I was particularly impressed that to reprogram the board, they didn’t dial up something, but actually had to physically swap it. Very rare for movie makers to know that.

Most of the hacks had actually been more or less done also.

You clearly have not seen very many Hollywood Historical movies.

Real Genius also had that girl who played Jordan. That makes the ‘science’ hard, if you know what I mean.